Willie McCovey’s stoic presence at the plate and in the field across an unforgettable 22-year MLB career not only earned the all-time great a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but the eternal adoration of San Francisco Giants fans starting from his first day in black and orange.
McCovey, 80, died peacefully on Wednesday, the team said, after battling ongoing health issues. He played his first season in 1959, the same year the Giants played their inaugural season in San Francisco.
“For more than six decades, (McCovey) gave his heart and soul to the Giants — as one of the greatest players of all time, as a quiet leader in the clubhouse, as a mentor to the Giants who followed in his footsteps, as an inspiration to our Junior Giants and as a fan cheering on the team from his booth,” Giants president and Chief Executive Officer Larry Baer said in a statement.
A Giants legend, McCovey finished his career with 521 home runs and 1,555 RBIs, collecting the National League Rookie of the Year honor during his first season, an MVP award in 1969 and six All-Star Game appearances.
He led the NL in home runs in 1963, 1968 and 1969 and also led the league in RBIs in the latter two seasons. He and fellow Giants great Willie Mays are regarded as “The Willies,” and were one of the most dominant power threats in the league when the two played together from 1959-1972.
McCovey, known playfully as “Stretch” for his height at 6 feet, 4 inches, was the National League’s all-time leader among left-handed batters in home runs until he was passed by another Giants legend — Barry Bonds — in 2001.
“Mac, I am crying over losing you even when you told me not to,” Bonds wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “I remember asking you what I would do without all of you around. You told me when that day comes — and it will one day — to keep the tradition of Giants baseball living forever.”
Bonds considered McCovey his uncle — Bonds’ father was good friends with McCovey.
“You told me to help the next generation of ball players get better. You told me to be thankful that we had so much time to spend together and talk about the love we have for the game, San Francisco, the Giants and for each other,” Bonds tweeted.
His humility and leadership was so noteworthy among the Giants community that the team announced the Willie Mac Award in his honor since 1980. The water behind right field at the Giants’ AT&T Park is named McCovey Cove and in 2003 the team unveiled a statue of McCovey at China Basin Park on the southern shoreline of McCovey Cove.
“There’s a reason the Giants give an award every year in his name,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “He was a man of incredible warmth, humility and kindness, and San Francisco will miss him.”
McCovey was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in 1986. He was raised in Mobile, Alabama.
A public celebration of McCovey’s life will be announced at a later date.
Fans who want to offer their condolences may send letters to McCovey’s family care of the San Francisco Giants, attention Forever 44, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107 or they can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story originally published by Bay City News.